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Beneath the hokey anachronism... - 95%

naverhtrad, February 9th, 2011

Beneath the Veiled Embrace is a better-than-decent symphonic metal album, particularly for a first-run-through from a new band. Pythia are certainly hamming up their style with a lot of anachronistic imagery borrowed liberally from the Victorian and high Gothic scenes, even going so far as to add a fucking harpsichord (!) into their instrumental mix. I did watch the group’s music video for ‘Sarah (Bury Her)’ and admit to being floored. I have found that a lot of power metal, particularly of the neo-classical and symphonic varieties, tends to be over-technical, polished and precise, lacking in a certain emotional energy and pathos that pervades earlier metal. Not so with ‘Sarah’! Andy Nixon and Marc Dyos start off strong, hitting just the right note of desperation and wistful melancholy with the bass-and-drums intro to get the entire thing moving, at which point it moves forward inexorably on its own snowballing power – the guitar solos are pretty laconic, but the melodies get such support that they really don’t need to be anything more; Emily Alice’s perfectly-keyed contralto vocals are at that point simply the final boost needed to turn the song into a classic.

Pythia is Romanticist to a fault (if you couldn’t tell that from their prone-dark-Gothic-heroine-bleeding-onto-the-tundra album cover or from their self-description on their website, their music will leave you in absolutely no doubt) – their lyrics and imagery all come straight out of the Gothic novel and the mediaeval ballad; largely pining after dark Byronic heroes and lost princes from the perspective of the forlorn spurned lover, or joining on wild Odinic hunts with lost spectral armies (of which some are inexplicably followed by Brian Blessed’s stentorian narrations of British anti-war poetry). The main problem is that it sometimes gets schmaltzy and sentimental, where most it should be epic. ‘Sarah (Bury Her)’ does get close to such a weak point but is saved by the sheer awesomeness brought by the bass line, whereas ‘My Pale Prince’ and ‘No Compromise’ step over a bit into that mire, with the latter suffering a bit from repetitive chug. ‘Army of the Damned’ and ‘Eternal Darkness’ are two tracks where their musical combination clicks best – and sometimes it seems like they do it through sheer speed. A couple of their slower tracks (like ‘Tristan’ and ‘Oedipus’) also achieve their beauty primarily through their pacing.

Though ‘Sarah’ is possibly an exception to the rule, Emily Alice is certainly at her best near the top of her register, which can get pretty damn high. Pythia is not Nightwish, that much is clear – but it is pretty clear Emily’s taking her singing style in a parallel direction with Tarja Turunen and going for operatic power and emotion over technical precision – and most of the time she gets space to make good use of it.

About the harpsichord: it’s certainly not a standard instrument even in symphonic or neo-classical metal and it doesn’t always work well even here (sometimes sounding more messy and tacked-on than atmospheric), but one can’t deny that Rick Holland puts it through its paces with enthusiasm. He actually does sound best on tracks like ‘Sweet Cantation’ and ‘Army of the Damned’ where the harpsichord is given its proper space, and where its nervous sound perfectly underscores the frantic pacing.

Beneath the Veiled Embrace gets a high rating from me. I’m always happy to rock out to symphonic power metal with some soul behind it; and I freely admit to listening to Beneath the Veiled Embrace practically nonstop for over half a month (and fairly regularly since). There are no tracks which I truly actively dislike, though ‘No Compromise’ does drag somewhat; and the entire album is really worth it if just for ‘Sarah (Bury Her)’ and ‘Army of the Damned’.

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